| Family First Inbox |

FF Inbox: Issue 900

“Enough talking about overworking yourself just to impress your husband. He should be in this with you!”

Not Your Responsibility [Inbox / Issue 899]

I really enjoyed the feature on parental involvement in shanah rishonah, but found that the conversation revolving around meals and Shabbos missed the point.

I think the important point that was missed is, whose responsibility is it? A married child can spend every Shabbos with parents and be totally independent, or never eat at home and be totally dependent. It’s crucial to realize that Shabbos plans (and everything else, too) are the responsibility of the couple, no matter how busy or overwhelmed they are. That doesn’t mean they can’t ask for help! But if for some reason you can’t host them, it’s not your responsibility to find them alternate plans.

I think we run into problems of codependence, unhealthy enmeshment, or infantilizing when the parents feel their married children’s lives are their responsibility. And yes, this starts when they’re young. A parent who has been taking charge of their child’s life from a young age won’t know how to stop so easily when they marry. When your child has homework, or a report for school — do you say “we” have to work on your assignment? Or do you say, “Oh, you have an assignment? Let me know if you need my help.” Do you spoon-feed a toddler who can feed themself? Arrange playdates for a child old enough to use the phone?

I’m not saying every single thing a child can do for themselves, they must.  Chesed is our deepest value, and chesed starts at home. We can do chesed for our own children — but it’s so crucial to be aware that the parent is helping to do things that are the child’s responsibility alone.

In a letter to the editor on the topic, “Ella” writes that there are different personalities and some children will need more hand-holding than others. That’s true. But for a child to be ready to get married, they would still need to take responsibility for whatever hand-holding they need. (Ma, I have no idea how to pay the electric bill, can you walk me through it?) If you have to run ahead of your child removing obstacles from in front of them, they should not be getting married.

Ella was also concerned that maybe a child won’t trust anyone else and will only want the parent’s help. No matter how sensitive the situation — if your child can’t find a rav or therapist or mentor or teacher to reach out to — that’s a concern that should be addressed before getting married. The problem with involving parents in any marital issue, no matter how much they care about the spouse, is they will always have a bias toward their own child. There are so many people out there with real training and credentials. If it’s shutting down an adult child to encourage them to reach out to someone else, there’s something seriously wrong.

By supporting our children to be independent we cultivate resilience; by stepping in to relieve them of responsibility, we debilitate them.

Batya Zuckerman

Chicken Soup Comes in Cans [Inbox / Issue 899]

In a letter on the topic of parental involvement during shanah rishonah, one letter writer described the challenge of adjusting to married life and said, “Throw making a full Shabbos into the mix, no store-bought anything, still trying to impress the new ‘hubby.’ ”

Why is the letter writer perpetuating harmful ideas? When we got married, I was working and my husband was in kollel, and no one was supporting us. My mother was a wonderful cook, but she didn’t teach me how to cook! My new “hubby” didn’t need to be impressed. He was so tolerant of my not knowing how to cook. We bought gefilte fish in a can and chicken soup in a can. Truthfully, I hadn’t even known that people actually bought those things. But until I felt confident to try to cook, that’s what we had on Shabbos. I worked on Friday so I prepared the cholent in the pot and “hubby” spiced it and put it up to cook. (It would be quite a few years before I trusted myself to spice the cholent!) Baruch Hashem we and the children are here to talk about it (though the children don’t remember those days).

Enough talking about overworking yourself just to impress your husband. He should be in this with you!

Naomi Bachrach

Far Rockaway, NY

Accurate Portrayal [Tempo / Issue 898]

Chaya Sara Davis’s story about a woman who had a stillborn baby struck a deep chord, as I, too, experienced stillborn loss many years ago. Although this was a fiction piece, she portrayed the scenario very accurately. It’s a very lonely place to be, with so many unexpected feelings and unfulfilled dreams, and not many around who have the unique ability to validate without pitying, comfort without pestering, or give love without judgment. My siblings, too, tried hard to “encourage” me to leave my house (“How long will you be hiding?”) when all I could think of was shame and emptiness.  My husband tried to be there for me, but he was dealing with his own repressed feelings. Grief therapists were practically unknown at the time.  And I, too, ran away in a cold sweat the first time someone who wasn’t informed asked me about my baby. For anyone who has gone through this type of loss, I just wanted you to know I feel for you.

A Sister in Your Loss

A Patient Friend [Tempo / Issue 898]

I loved this story about the mother and her stillborn, and specifically the way her sister Rechy comforted her. I’ve gone through hard times, where my reaction was that I felt down, and I wasn’t able to make small talk.

People often think that the solution is to either just leave the person alone, or to talk to them about how they’re feeling. I appreciated that my best friend, just like Rechy, just talked about life (what she was making for dinner, etc.). This kept me grounded, but didn’t pressure me to carry on a conversation. If a friend is going through a hard time, she may appreciate you shining a bit of positivity in their life, while you patiently wait for her to be ready to reciprocate.

Name Withheld

The Invisible Tribe [One Mother, One Family / Issue 898]

Please assure Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld that his thoughts about preserving any and all remnants of the world his mother a”h once inhabited aren’t inane. In fact, they’re totally understandable. We yesomim often have no one to share our thoughts with. If we did, we’d realize that most of what we’re thinking and feeling — even decades later — is totally normal for members of our “invisible tribe.”

I, too, was orphaned at age seven and later gained a stepparent who truly accepted me as his own child. Still, as Rabbi Schonfeld noted, losing a parent runs deep. The stability and blessing of my new life didn’t erase the pain over the loss of my former one. Stepparents (and step-grandparents) who can accept and diplomatically navigate that complex emotional landscape are true heroes.

Wishing comfort and consolation to all of us who have lost a parent, and looking forward to the greatest family reunion of all time....

Sara Miriam Gross

Consult with a Rav [Strictly Business / Issue 897]

Your recent article about difficulties that frum women have in the workplace was excellent, so well presented, both honest and discreet. The points were important ones, and I would like to add one of my own.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working for a very yashar and kind male boss who was almost a senior citizen. It was a small office — two other women and myself worked under him. When I joined the team, I noticed right away that they called him by his first name, and he them. I called my rav and carefully discussed the ramification of potentially calling my boss Mr. X and insisting that he not use my first name, either. We decided it would be strange. Yes, this was an actual consideration. It would draw more unwanted attention to myself. Instead, we decided on specific measures I’d implement unilaterally (such as not wearing makeup to work, or being more careful how jokey I am at work since I’m a naturally loud person), which would help create the same distance I was trying to achieve by not using first names.

I’m not in any way disagreeing with the insistence in the article that first names not be used. I am, however, saying that articles like this should provide food for thought and introspection, rather than instruction l’maaseh. For that, you need a competent rav (or possibly a female mentor) you feel comfortable discussing this with — something that any woman going into the workforce should have at her fingertips anyway.

To all the working women with good intentions to stay holy, Hashem should bless your efforts!


Tips from the Trenches [Strictly Business / Issue 897]

I started my career in a mostly frum office and have spent over 40 years and counting in large, secular, corporate environments. I’ve learned a lot through experience. Here are some of them:

Frum workplaces pose more danger. There is an inherent familiarity in a frum environment which does not exist in secular workplaces. Unless I volunteer the information, nobody at work knows I had my head in the oven all night cleaning for Pesach, my child got engaged, I had a new grandchild, etc., unless I tell them. I generally don’t.

These articles always seem to focus on the women, but I’ve personally observed many more frum men mishandling workplace situations, though women are often blamed and are more vulnerable.

Please don’t come to work saying my rabbi or my husband doesn’t let me do X or Y. Your employer (frum or not frum) hired you, assuming you were an adult with personal agency. Of course, you can consult with your husband, rav, or second cousin about advisable behaviors at work. Then you need to own the decision, whatever it may be. “I’m not comfortable being called by my first name” is a statement made by an adult. Be an adult.

In the secular workplace, it’s nearly impossible not be called by your first name. If this breaches your boundaries, you need to find another form of employment.

I find it easier to say, “I have a previous commitment” than to say, “I can’t come to dinner because I don’t do that.” It’s easier to say, “I’m not feeling well” and retreat to your hotel room than speechify about why you can’t hang out somewhere.

I never swear. Everyone else does. But not when they talk to me. I never have to say anything.

In a secular workplace, you need to be friendly to succeed. This means asking people how their weekend was or answering when they ask you. It means saying congratulations when they share information about a new baby or a son’s college graduation, etc. It doesn’t mean becoming “friends.” Again, if this makes you religiously uncomfortable, a secular workplace isn’t for you. You’ll generally be unsuccessful beyond the lowest rungs on the ladder, if at all, if you are perceived as unfriendly.

Be very careful when you make general statements about what Orthodox Jews do and do not do. The Orthodox woman who wears pants, the fellow who doesn’t wear a yarmulke at work, also needs to leave early on Fridays. Again, “I” statements work. Even “for religious reasons, I don’t wear pants” is fine.

Aside from rabbanim, who get a myriad of questions and deal with many issues on these topics, people who have no experiences in frum or secular offices aren’t in a good position to give advice.

Hadassa Gefen

Not Extreme [Strictly Business / Issue 897]

Thank you for this article about men and women interacting in the workplace. It was very relatable!

I work in a close-knit team of 18 people, 15 of whom are frum, married men with kids. It’s quite challenging, to say the least. Although I felt some of the suggestions for gedarim that some women mentioned are extreme, I really liked what Rabbi Weinreb wrote, that these are really not extreme, and they’re actually just gedarim to help us overcome much, much more serious issues that can come up. I really took great inspiration from this article — thank you!

An amazing resource on this topic is the book, Making It All Work by Ari Wasserman. I highly recommend it for all women (and men). He discusses the challenges of women in the workplace, with a focus on men and how to handle these types of issues.

Name Withheld

Taken Aback [Face to Face / Issue 896]

I was a bit taken aback at reading the comment Mrs. Elana Moskowitz made regarding the brachah we connect most with in Shemoneh Esreh. Her hunch was that it’s the brachah of “shema koleinu.”  After that assumption, Mrs. Moskowitz went on to reflect on the popularity of this particular brachah, with all its nuances. And I am left to wonder — who hijacked Shemoneh Esreh? This powerful tefillah is a combination of the three parts: shevach, bakashah, and hoda’ah. When did this tefillah become primarily our emotional and psychological shopping list that we offer to the One Above before starting our day?

I don’t believe that our people are so small.  Yes, we will always have needs — personal, communal, and national.  But I would be hard pressed to believe that our needs overwhelm the shevach and the hoda’ah contained in this magnificent prayer.

With the backdrop of October 7 always behind us, and the terror and hatred toward our people always in front of us, we can never forget Who is suffering with us, and Whom it is that we want to return back home. Shechinah b’galuta. G-d’s pain encompasses all of ours; we’re in exile, and so is He. I’d like to think that the brachah of “V’sechezenah eineinu b’shuvcha l’Tzion b’rachamim,” followed by our list of gratitude to the Borei Olam, resonates very deeply within all of us. The acknowledgement of G-d's pain, and the request that He come back home with mercy, raises us above ourselves, and encompasses everything we could ever ask for.

Chasida Teichman

Baltimore, MD


Mrs. Elana Moskowitz responds:

Thank you for your incisive comments. While I hear your point, I still stand behind my claim that most of us connect most deeply with shema koleinu. “Most of us” includes 12-year-old tweens, adolescents, newly marrieds, and everyone in between and beyond.

Yes, we certainly daven for the klal, but someone who isn’t plugged into the nuances of the shevach and hoda'ah parts of tefillah will indeed be drawn to shema koleinu, the portal of personal requests.

Is that the ultimate maximization of all the beauty and power of Shemoneh Esreh? Not necessarily, but it still indicates that the davener is a person who turns to Hashem for their needs and identifies Him as the prime mover, the ultimate address in our life. I’m thrilled when a 16-year-old treats shema koleinu as a refuge for their pain, even if this may not be as lofty or klal-minded as feeling the pain of Shechinta b’galuta.

In general, my experience when borrowing the siddurim of others is that the page with shema koleinu is smudged with tears. The only other page I’ve found coming in as a close second is refaeinu.

I think we have to be real about how we connect to tefillah in all stages and ages and create space for all girls and women, even those who currently relate to tefillah as a way to connect to Hashem through their personal needs. We’re all ultimately works in progress.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 900)

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